The Jamestown Public Schools district wants to hear feedback from residents on potentially instituting a veterans exemption in the payment of school taxes.
On Tuesday, the Board of Education discussed the district's recent eligibility for such a program, which is already offered by both the City of Jamestown and Chautauqua County.
During a presentation on the fundamentals behind the veterans exemption program, Dale Weatherlow, assistant superintendent for administration, explained that the program is a new concept for school districts.
Weatherlow said the bill that authorizes school districts to grant such an exemption for its resident veterans was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.
"This is fully discretionary," Weatherlow told the board. "This is your decision as to whether or not this exemption is granted."
Weatherlow said there are three possible levels of exemption afforded veterans within the bill: active duty during a period of war, veterans who served in combat zones and individuals who have sustained service-related injuries. The first level would entail an exemption of 15 percent of assessed value not to exceed $12,000, the second entails up to 25 percent of assessed value not to exceed $8,000 and the final level allows up to 50 percent of a veterans disability rating not to exceed $40,000; making for a maximum exemption of 75 percent of assessed value not to exceed $60,000.
"It could be a significant amount of money," Weatherlow said.
Weatherlow said the district would also have the option to cap the exemption levels as a means of transitioning into the maximum amounts. Ultimately, however, the board would also need to consider the effect that implementing the program would have on the taxbase at large.
"If we do grant this, whatever you do is going to shift the (payment of) taxes to those that don't get the exemption. So that's why there's some consideration to the level that you might want to adopt," Weatherlow said.
If instituted, the exemption would create a 1.17 percent increase in the upcoming tax levy in addition to what will eventually be built into the 2014-15 JPS budget. According to Tim Mains, superintendent, this caveat makes for a difficult decision on the part of the board.
"We do have the option to provide an exemption to veterans," Mains said. "The downside of property tax exemptions is when you give one class of citizens an exemption, all the other citizens have to make that up.
"So it's a catch-22. In trying to do something good for people that I think are very well-deserving, other people will have to pick up the slack and make up the difference whether they like it or not."
After further discussion, the board opted to schedule a public hearing in order to receive community feedback. The public hearing will be held Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. at Washington Middle School prior to the 7 p.m. regular meeting of the board.
In other business, Mains discussed his initial reaction to Gov. Cuomo's state budget proposal and preliminary state aid runs for the 2014-15 academic year.
"It's a very big disappointment to me," Mains said. "One of the two things that bother me the most is that he has done nothing to try and address the inequity in the way educational funding is distributed.
"So, even though New York state is one of the most generous states to its schools, it's one of the worst states in terms of making sure that that money gets to the kids who really need it. And that's a problem.
"The second thing that concerns me is that we continue to wrestle with this gap elimination adjustment, which is basically money that has been taken away from schools because the state didn't have the revenue that it needed," he continued.
"Well, there's no longer a gap. If the state is no longer in a deficit position, then it needs to give back all of that money that it's been taking from schools; and it didn't do that."
Despite the fact that the gap elimination adjustment is still in existence, Mains said JPS is receiving approximately $1.2 million more in state aid for the coming school year than it received for the current one, which is due largely to a decrease in the amount of the district's gap elimination adjustment.
Mains also reported that, since the state's freezing of foundation aid to its districts during the 2008-09 academic year, it has shorted JPS by more than $100 million in promised funding. He said this has led to the district's elimination of more than 100 staff positions over the past five years.